Family. The first word that comes to my mind when I think of my tenure at RiverTown Multimedia. Family doesn't have to be bound by blood. In fact, my biological family is small, so my work family has been even more special to me for the past six years. It's hard to believe how many experiences, emotions and stories you can fit into six years. How many friends you can make. How many lives touched mine and I hope I touched in return. My last day as the Wisconsin regional editor, at the helm of the Pierce County Herald, New Richmond News, River Falls Journal and Hudson Star-Observer, is Friday, Aug. 2.
I put off writing this column until deadline day, because if I write it, it makes it more real that I'm leaving. Plus, I'm a sucker for punishment. Always trying to beat the deadline.
My eyes are aching because I'm trying to hold back the tears. A newspaper editor is supposed to be no-nonsense and tough, right? Some days I am, some days not so much.
It was an agonizing decision for me to leave journalism, my reporters, our readers. It was one I never thought I would make. But a wonderful opportunity presented itself in the form of a new career path. Coupled with the promise of more time with my husband and four children and I knew the choice I had to make. My kids are only going to be this age for so long. There are concerts to attend, games to watch, homework to do, outings to take, and child-rearing to do. My new job, at Greg Peters' State Farm, will keep me in River Falls, my hometown, in a position in which I can help people and still be involved in the community. I am looking forward to tackling my new career with enthusiasm and motivation, and hopefully I'll make some new friends along the way, while keeping in touch with many old ones. If you ever need a cup of my famous "newspaper coffee," you will know where to find it.
When I walked into the River Falls Journal in 2008 and was hired by Phil Pfuehler as a stringer to cover town board meetings, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be the regional editor a decade later. I was persistent and patient; it was tough to break into the local news biz back then. I was hired full time as a New Richmond News reporter in 2013. I still remember then-publisher Steve Dzubay telling me I was hired over the phone. I had finally become a reporter, after freelancing for many years and working at a local bar and grill. I think I did a happy dance, but luckily no one but my dog saw it. Writing is my talent, not dancing.
From the moment I started at the News, I felt like I had found my place in the world. There is no high like covering a breaking story, no adrenaline rush like "getting the scoop," no greater satisfaction than unraveling a complicated issue and helping the public learn about it. There is also no feeling like knowing in your bones that the story you're writing is a special one, an extraordinary tale about an ordinary person. I even loved the more "mundane" tasks of compiling court dispositions, typing the jail log, going through police blotters. I loved it all.
I have met many wonderful and memorable people as a News reporter, Pierce County Herald editor and Wisconsin regional editor. As I drive through Pierce and St. Croix counties, there are memories at every turn, some fun, some hard, some sad: house fires, county fairs, town festivals, contentious board meetings, alleged UFO sightings, terrible accidents, new businesses opening. Just when I think I've seen it all, I'm always surprised.
That is what many people forget about news reporters. We are documenting the communities' history. We are at the big games, the town board meetings, the town celebrations, the scenes of accidents and homicides, the community Easter egg hunts and Halloween parades, the coronations and awards ceremonies.
So in a way, the people of the towns we cover become our family, too. And like in a family, we don't always agree: On how a story should be covered, or if it should be written about. If a letter to the editor was too harsh, or if the best photo is published.
I value the interactions I had with our communities all these years. Some of the best conversations I had were with people whose views differed from mine. How much I have learned, and I thank you all.
People have asked me what my favorite story has been. There are so many, it's truly impossible to pick. Some I wrote and others my reporters wrote. The River Falls man who found a kidney donor thanks to a story we wrote; the tale of Wally the pig and how he found his way to New Richmond via falling off a truck on the interstate; following a Bay City man's fight to keep his land from becoming a public trail; watching llamas hightail it down Davis Street in Hammond; the River Falls World War II veteran nicknamed "the Survivor." How could I ever really pick?
It will be strange not getting up at 4 a.m. on deadline days, and reading all of my reporters' stories as they stream through my inbox. I will now be reading their work as a subscriber. Community journalism is important; it's the foundation of this great country and how we stay informed. I will continue to support it and the reporters at RiverTown in any way I can. I wish words could convey how much they and their professionalism, dedication, hard work and friendship have meant to me, how much "waterproof" eyeliner I've gone through while working with them, when one of my laughing fits hit. Except this week, the tears won't all be from laughter.